Israel should consider cutting its supply of electricity to the Gaza Strip this summer if it experiences power shortages, Israeli Environment Minister Gilad Erdan said.
Erdan, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party, outlined the proposal in a letter to ministers, who were scheduled to discuss the issue in their Sunday cabinet meeting.
"If there are power shortages in Israel this summer, the supply of electricity to the Gaza Strip should be halted... It represents 4.5 percent of Israeli production," the letter said.
"Electricity production will be less than demand this summer," Erdan added, in an interview with Israeli military radio on Sunday.
"We are looking at using production methods that are more polluting and alternative energy sources like solar but we may still have to have electricity outages."
"If we are in that situation it would be absurd for Israelis to be the first ones affected while at the same time we continue to provide electricity to Gaza, while they are not paying," he said, apparently referring to late payments by the Palestinian Authority for the 120 megawatts which Israel supplies to the strip.
Fawzi Barhum, spokesman of the Islamist movement Hamas which controls Gaza, said Erdan's "threats... exposed the true face of the occupation."
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"What is required from the Arab countries, and Egypt in particular, is the creation of an Arab, Egyptian safety net for the residents of Gaza in light of the Zionist blackmail," he added.
Israel's energy generation is heavily dependent on natural gas supplies from Egypt, which have been interrupted multiple times since last year's revolution.
Attackers have frequently blown up the pipeline that supplies Israel with Egyptian gas, and Egypt in April annulled the bilateral contract governing the supply, saying the Jewish state had failed to meet its conditions.
The Gaza Strip experienced its worst electricity crisis in memory this year, as the supply of fuel smuggled from Egypt dwindled, forcing the closure of the coastal territory's sole power plant.
The crisis led to power cuts of up to 18 hours a day, but eased somewhat after a deal last month between Gaza's Hamas government and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, which agreed to supply Gaza with fuel purchased from Israel.
The PA and Hamas agreed that the cost of the 500,000 litres per day of fuel for the plant would be met from revenue collected from customers by the Gaza electricity company.
Gaza's electricity company generates 80 megawatts itself and in addition to the 120 from Israel, it also receives 80 megawatts from Egypt but is still only able to meet about two-thirds of demand.
Israeli leaders regularly threaten to cut off electricity supplies to Gaza, agreed in the Oslo peace accords, as a measure against the militant Hamas which has ruled the territory since 2007.